Answer: All of the above.
First Hand Accounts
· In the 1850s Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson's grandson, told Henry S.
Randall, an early Jefferson biographer, about the close resemblance of Sally
Hemings's children to Thomas Jefferson. He said that all of Sally Hemings's
children resembled Jefferson and that one of the boys resembled him "so closely
that it was plain that they had his blood in his veins." He indicated that his
mother thought so too. And, in Ohio in the 1840s, Eston Hemings, was described
as bearing a "striking" resemblance to Jefferson.
· John Hartwell Cocke wrote in his diary in 1853 and 1859 that Jefferson had a
slave mistress. He was one of the founders and board members of the University
of Virginia, and a frequent visitor to Monticello.
· Sally Hemings's son Madison said that he was the son of Jefferson and gave
details. In his memoir, he described his mother's stay in Paris: "Their stay
(my mother's and Maria's) was about eighteen months. But during that time my
mother became Mr. Jefferson's concubine, and when he was called home she was
enceinte by him. He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but
she demurred. In France, she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she
would be re-enslaved. So she refused to return with him. To induce her to do
so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her
children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years. In consequence of his
promise, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia.
Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson
was the father." [Madison Hemings, Pike County (Ohio)
· Israel Jefferson, a former slave who lived
at Monticello, corroborated
Madison Hemings's story. He told an Ohio newspaper man that Sally Hemings was
Jefferson's "concubine" and that Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston were
Jefferson's children. [Israel Jefferson's recollections, Pike County (Ohio)
Oral history accounts
· Excerpt from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Research Committee
Report on the Jefferson-Hemings relationship:
"Despite a climate of hostility and denial, Madison Hemings's descendants
carefully passed their family history of descent from Sally Hemings and Thomas
Jefferson from generation to generation, often at important moments associated
with rites of passage, family pride, or American history. Eston Hemings's
descendants lived as white people and did not acknowledge Sally Hemings in
their oral history, in order to sever their connection with African Americans.
They did, however, pass on in their family tradition that they were related to
· Newspaper article. Journalist James Callender reported the
relationship in 1802 in the Richmond Recorder.
· The will of Thomas Jefferson. Sally's sons, Madison and Eston Hemings, were
freed by Jefferson's will in March 1826. Also freed by his will were:
Sally's relative Burwell Colbert, who was Jefferson's personal valet; John
Hemings, Sally's younger brother and the master carpenter at Monticello; Joe
Fossett, Sally's relative and master ironworker at Monticello. Jefferson not
only freed these five slaves who were blood relations of Sally, but petitioned
the Virginia legislature to allow them to remain in the state. Sally Hemings
was not freed by Jefferson's will, however, she received her freedom two years
Dr. Eugene Foster, a retired pathologist from Tufts University, Boston,
performed a DNA test that centered on the Y-chromosome. Since certain features
of the Y-chromosome are passed down from father to son without much change over
time, the Y-chromosome can be used to determine paternity.
However, Jefferson had no acknowledged male descendants so it was necessary to
examine the DNA of his closest relatives. Jefferson's uncle, Field Jefferson,
had sons and his descendants are alive today. Five of them agreed to have their
blood drawn so it could be compared with the blood of the male descendants of
Sally's son, Eston Hemings.
The results of Dr. Foster's study, published in Nature (November 5,
1998), found a match (see chart) on the Y-chromosome between the
descendants of Eston Hemings and Field Jefferson. Scientists note that there
is less than a one percent probability that this is due to chance. The study
does not prove that Eston Hemings's father was Thomas Jefferson, only that
Eston's father was a Jefferson. Short of digging up Thomas Jefferson's body,
and doing direct DNA analysis on the tissues, the issue will remain ambiguous.
[However, a separate study of Jefferson's Monticello visits finds they coincide
so closely to Hemings's pregnancies, that even without DNA, the probability of
his being the father is 90 percent or more. With DNA, it is far higher,
perhaps 99 percent --not proven, certainly, but as close to proven as most
history ever gets.]
Foster's findings also gave the lie to more than a hundred years
of historians' claims that one of Jefferson's nephews, Peter or Samuel Carr,
fathered Hemings's children: DNA testing excluded both of the Carrs
from the list of possible fathers.
Evaluation of Jefferson's schedule and travels
· Jefferson, who traveled widely, has been found to have been present at
Monticello nine months before the birth of each of Sally Hemings's children.
Fraser D. Neiman, director of archaeology
at Monticello produced a statistical study of Jefferson's presence at Monticello and Sally
Hemings's likely conception periods. The study was published in William and
Mary Quarterly, January 2000.
· Excerpt from Fawn Brodie's Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren.
"Sally bore two daughters, Harriet and Edy, in 1795 and 1796, when Jefferson
was in temporary political retirement at Monticello following his resignation
as Washington's Secretary of State. Edy died in 1796 and Harriet in 1797. A
second son, Beverly, was born in 1798, and another daughter, also named
Harriet, in 1801. Two sons, Madison and Eston, were born in 1805 and 1808,
respectively.... There is documentary evidence that all these children, save
Tom, fathered in Paris, were conceived when Jefferson was at Monticello. We
know from Jefferson's farm book that Sally conceived no children when Jefferson
was not there. And there is subtle evidence in many of Jefferson's letters
attesting to the continuing warmth and satisfaction of his life at Monticello,
where, he wrote: "all is love and peace."
2. DNA tests prove 100 percent that Thomas Jefferson was the father of at least one of Sally Hemings's children.
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